Today is Turkey day here in the states, lots of people are posting notes of thankfulness. I think the thing, most relevant to this blog, that I am thankful for is that I have been able to structure my life around what I enjoy the most, which is making things.
It was clear to me this morning, as I rough cut out a piece of wood for the wife, prior to fully waking up, that I really have spent most of my life learning how to make things. Barely one cup of coffee in me, groggily shuffling around, yet get in front of the bandsaw and turn it on; click I’m in the zone, the brain is clear motions are fluid, zip..zip..zip.. it is done. Turn off the machine, de-tension the blade, take the coveralls off, shuffle groggily back upstairs looking for a second cup of coffee. The contrast between clarity and groggy from one moment to the next really highlighted how natural it has become to me.
I’m not sure how other people see the world but when I look at things I not only see the object, but how it could be created. One of the most wonderful things is the glorious moment when some object is no longer “magical”. I’m using “magical” here in the sense of the Arthur C. Clarke quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This is the moment of realization that not only do I know all the parts that make up something I also know exactly how to make them, and while I may not understand the specific nuances of fine tuning the function I know what variables to play with. An example: I’ve gotten into fountain pens recently and was playing with a cheap one I had picked up, thinking that it was “ok” except I didn’t like the script nib on it. Then the back of my brain said, you know you could just re-grind the nib. To which another part of my brain said yes but then it wouldn’t have the ball on the end that a non script nib has. Then in less than an instant, poof, all the “magic” of a fountain pen dissipated like fog in the morning sun. Nibs, feeds, barrels, piston fill, cartridge, how the pieces work, how they fit together what they are made out of, how I would make them; to borrow another phrase this time from Heinlein, in an instant I groked fountain pens. I cannot describe how wonderful and empowering such a moment feels.
To understand and craft an object is a great experience, but to me the most noble and transcendental experience is to create a beautiful tool that will be used to create other beautiful things. I’ve been doing more forging lately with heavier stock and have decided that my 2 kilo hammer just takes too long, so it was time to get a bigger hammer. My lovely wife had an 8# Collins sledge hammer head, that she picked up for her “orphaned tools” project. It was one of the ones with the really large oval eye, and she was kind enough to let me have it. I remembered I had some thick walnut stock which should work for a handle. I cut off a chunk, sketched out a short handle and set about carving out and fitting a handle for the sledge. Once the shape was good and the head fit, I put a coat of my experimental linseed oil based finish on it [ that is a topic for a later post]. The finish takes a bout 24 hours to cure per layer, the handle wound up with 3 layers. This was one of those “in between” projects that I’d pick up and work on when I had an hour here or there. While the handle finish was curing I took the head to the belt grinder and turned it into a “rounding hammer” with one flat face and one domed face. I also cleaned up the die marks from when it was made and took all the surface rust and gouges down. When it was purchased the stub of the original handle was still in the eye which meant I was able to save the original large aluminum wedge that held the handle in. I cleaned up and straightened the wedge and happily used it to set the new handle. Here is a picture of the finished tool (cell phone camera pic):
I haven’t had a chance to use it on hot metal yet, but it swings nicely and I can spin it around to swap which face I’m using and the facets let me know I’ve got it oriented correctly. I believe it is going to be a beautiful tool to use.
So yes, I’m very grateful to be able to do what I am truly passionate about on a regular basis.